Harmon Has Lefty on Long Road to No 1

By Associated PressMay 14, 2007, 4:00 pm
The Players ChampionshipPONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- They are the most famous family of golf instructors, and even better at giving each other the needle. So when Butch Harmon was voted the No. 1 golf coach, his younger brothers fired off a friendly dig. Butch wasn't even the best teacher in the family, he just had the best students.
 
Greg Norman had more raw talent than anyone during the height of his powers. He spent nearly three years at No. 1 under Harmon's watch, including a second British Open title and a victory in THE PLAYERS Championship with a score (24 under) that might never be broken.
 
The other guy Harmon helped take to the top was Tiger Woods, a relationship that lasted nearly 10 years and included four consecutive majors, three straight U.S. Amateur titles, the career Grand Slam and an overhaul of his swing in the middle of all that.
 
Harmon knows what he's doing. Even some of his fiercest rivals in golf instruction concede that.
 
But his next project - another bundle of ability - is the tallest order yet.
 
'Butch, the 1st of many,' Phil Mickelson wrote on the 18th flag after winning THE PLAYERS Championship with precision rarely seen from such a swashbuckler.
 
Maybe he used '1st' instead of spelling it out because Mickelson was in a hurry. Or perhaps this is the first time Mickelson has reason to believe he can be No. 1 in the world.
 
Harmon was the center of attention Sunday afternoon as his latest student accepted the crystal trophy for beating the toughest field in golf. They have been working together only a month, and already are seeing results. Harmon put no limits on how much better Mickelson will get as they start preparing for the U.S. Open at Oakmont for now, and taking on Woods in the future.
 
'You've got to realize you're dealing with one of the most talented people that's ever played the game,' Harmon said.
 
Woods missed this conversation because he had left the TPC Sawgrass long before Mickelson even teed off. One week after winning the Wachovia Championship against a stellar field on a demanding golf course, Woods couldn't break par until the final round, when four straight birdies and an eagle carried him to a 67 and a tie for 37th.
 
Even so, Woods remains a bigger obstacle than any flaws Mickelson is trying to correct in his swing.
 
Harmon has taken two players to No. 1, but he never had to chase down a guy of Woods' stature.
 
Mathematically, Woods has twice as many points as Mickelson in the world ranking and likely still stay at No. 1 for at least the rest of this year. Mickelson, who can sound like a rocket scientist at times, is aware of this.
 
'There's such a big lead in the way the points are that it's a two-year process from whenever somebody starts,' Mickelson said when asked if he could get to No. 1. 'But I haven't thought about that yet. I still have a lot of work to get my ball-striking to where I would give myself a chance to contend.'
 
In the last 10 years, only Norman, Ernie Els, Woods, David Duval and Vijay Singh have been No. 1. Duval got there in 1999 after winning 11 out of 34 starts on the PGA TOUR as Woods was revamping his swing. Singh reached the top in 2004 by winning nine times and a major, while Woods again was rebuilding his swing under Hank Haney.
 
Paul Casey was asked late last year whether it was an unreasonable goal to aim for No. 1.
 
'It can be done, and I don't think Tiger would disagree,' Casey said. 'But he would find a way to work twice as hard to make sure it didn't happen. And that's the difficult part.'
 
No matter what Phil does next, Woods figures to have the final say.
 
It would be easy to get caught up in one week, one victory at THE PLAYERS Championship. And while Woods looked ordinary at Sawgrass, he still has won nine times in his last 13 starts on the PGA TOUR, including two majors and a runner-up finish at the Masters.
 
That's where Rory Sabbatini sounded silly last week in saying that Woods struggled with his swing to win the Wachovia Championship, and he looked 'more beatable than ever.'
 
'I've won three times this year, the same amount he's won in his career,' Woods said, as if flicking a mosquito from his shoulder. Some were quick to say Mickelson would be the favorite at Oakmont, although that could change if Woods wins the Memorial this month.
 
Even so, Mickelson presents the most tantalizing rival.
 
He was good enough to win a PGA TOUR event while still in college. He has piled up 31 victories and three majors during his 15 years on tour, numbers surpassed only by Woods among active players. But his discipline has been lacking, either with a swing that went too far past parallel or a strategy that paid more attention to reward than the risk.
 
Harmon spent two hours with Mickelson on Saturday morning and 90 minutes Sunday morning. He said he is trying to get more flex in his back leg to keep his hips from turning as much. Harmon is equally interested in changing the way Mickelson thinks.
 
The trick is to get Mickelson to play more conservatively, 'which might be a bigger problem than the swing.'
 
Three weeks into their relationship, Mickelson was third at the Byron Nelson, third at Wachovia and he won THE PLAYERS. You can imagine how excited he is about the rest of the year and beyond.
 
'What's most exciting is I feel like we're just getting started,' he said. 'This is only week No. 3. In three months, how much am I going to progress? In three years, where am I going to be? I'm really excited about the direction I'm headed.'
 
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    After Further Review: Haas crash strikes a chord

    By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 19, 2018, 2:39 am

    Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.


    On the horrifying car crash involving Bill Haas ...

    I spent a lot of time this week thinking about Bill Haas. He was the passenger in a car crash that killed a member of his host family. That man, 71-year-old Mark Gibello, was a successful businessman in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and a new friend.

    Haas escaped without any major injuries, but he withdrew from the Genesis Open to return home to Greenville, S.C. When he’ll return to the Tour is anyone’s guess. It could be a while, as he grapples with the many emotions after surviving that horrifying crash – seriously, check out the photos – while the man next to him did not.

    The entire Haas clan is some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Wish them the best in their recovery. – Ryan Lavner


    On TIger Woods' missed cut at the Genesis Open ...

    After missing the cut at the Genesis Open by more than a few car lengths, Tiger Woods appeared to take his early exit in stride. Perhaps that in and of itself is a form of progress.

    Years ago, a second-round 76 with a tattered back-nine scorecard would have elicited a wide range of emotions. But none of them would have been particularly tempered, or optimistic, looking ahead to his next start. At age 42, though, Woods has finally ceded that a win-or-bust mentality is no longer helpful or productive.

    The road back from his latest surgery will be a winding one, mixed with both ups and downs. His return at Torrey Pines qualified as the former, while his trunk slam at Riviera certainly served as the latter. There will surely be more of both in the coming weeks and months, and Woods’ ability to stomach the rough patches could prove pivotal for his long-term prognosis. - Will Gray


    On the debate over increased driving distance on the PGA Tour ...

    The drumbeat is only going to get louder as the game’s best get longer. On Sunday, Bubba Watson pounded his way to his 10th PGA Tour title at the Genesis Open and the average driving distance continues to climb.

    Lost in the debate over driving distances and potential fixes, none of which seem to be simple, is a beacon of sanity, Riviera Country Club’s par-4 10th hole. The 10th played just over 300 yards for the week and yet yielded almost as many bogeys (86) as birdies (87) with a 4.053 stroke average.

    That ranks the 10th as the 94th toughest par 4 on Tour this season, ahead of behemoths like the 480-yard first at Waialae and 549-yard 17th at Kapalua. Maybe the game doesn’t need new rules that limit how far the golf ball goes, maybe it just needs better-designed golf holes. - Rex Hoggard


    On the depth of LPGA talent coming out of South Korea ...

    The South Korean pipeline to the LPGA shows no signs of drying up any time soon. Jin Young Ko, 22, won her LPGA debut as a tour member Sunday at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, and Hyejin Choi, 18, nearly won the right to claim LPGA membership there. The former world No. 1 amateur who just turned pro finished second playing on a sponsor exemption. Sung Hyun Park, who shared Rolex Player of the Year honors with So Yeon Ryu last year, is set to make her 2018 debut this week at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And Inbee Park is set to make her return to the LPGA in two weeks at the HSBC Women’s World Championship after missing most of last year due to injury. The LPGA continues to go through South Korea no matter where this tour goes. - Randall Mell

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    Nature calls: Hole-out rescues Bubba's bladder

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2018, 2:20 am

    LOS ANGELES – Clinging to a one-stroke lead, Bubba Watson had just teed off on the 14th hole at Riviera Country Club and was searching for a bathroom.

    “I asked Cameron [Smith], ‘where's the bathroom?’ He said, ‘On the next tee there's one. Give yourself a couple more shots, then you can go to the bathroom,’” Watson recalled. “I said, ‘So now I'm just going to hole it and go to the bathroom.’”

    By the time Watson got to his shot, which had found the bunker left of the green, his caddie Ted Scott had a similar comment.


    Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

    Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


    “When he went down to hit it I said, ‘You know you haven’t holed one in a long time,’” Scott said.

    Watson’s shot landed just short of the hole, bounced once and crashed into the flagstick before dropping into the hole for an unlikely birdie and a two-stroke lead that he would not relinquish on his way to his third victory at the Genesis Open and his 10th PGA Tour title.

    “I looked at Teddy [Scott] and said, ‘You called it.’ Then Cameron [who was paired with Watson] came over and said I called it. I’d forgotten he and I had talked about it,” Watson said.

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    Bubba Golf takes long road back to winner's circle

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2018, 1:55 am

    LOS ANGELES – Bubba’s back.

    It’s been just two years since he hoisted a trophy on the PGA Tour, but with a mind that moves as fast as Bubba Watson’s, it must have felt like an eternity.

    Since his last victory, which was also a shootout at Riviera Country Club in 2016, Watson was passed over for a captain’s pick at the 2016 Ryder Cup, endured a mystery illness, lost his confidence, his desire and the better part of 40 pounds.

    He admits that along that ride he considered retirement and wondered if his best days were behind him.

    “I was close [to retirement]. My wife was not close,” he conceded. “My wife basically told me to quit whining and play golf. She's a lot tougher than I am.”

    What else could he do? With apologies to his University of Georgia education and a growing portfolio of small businesses, Watson was made to be on the golf course, particularly a golf course like Riviera, which is the canvas that brings out Bubba’s best.

    In a game that can too often become a monotonous parade of fairways and greens, Watson is a freewheeling iconoclast who thrives on adversity. Where others only see straight lines and one-dimensional options, Bubba embraces the unconventional and the untried.

    For a player who sometimes refers to himself in the third person, it was a perfectly Bubba moment midway through his final round on Sunday at the Genesis Open. Having stumbled out of the 54-hole lead with bogeys at Nos. 3 and 6, Watson pulled his 2-iron tee shot wildly right at the seventh because, “[his playing partners] both went left.”

    From an impossible lie in thick rough with his golf ball 2 feet above his feet, Watson’s often-fragile focus zeroed in for one of the week’s most entertaining shots, which landed about 70 feet from the hole and led to a two-putt par.


    Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

    Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


    “His feel for that kind of stuff, you can’t go to the range and practice that. You can’t,” said Watson’s caddie Ted Scott. “Put a ball 2 feet above your feet and then have to hold the face open and then to swing that easy. That’s why I have the best seat in the house. That’s the essence of Bubba golf.”

    There were plenty of highlight moments on Sunday for Watson. There were crucial putts at Nos. 11 (birdie), 12 (par) and 13 (par) to break free of what was becoming an increasingly fluid leaderboard, and his chip-in birdie from a greenside bunker at the 14th hole extended his lead to two strokes.

    “It was just a bunker shot, no big deal,” smiled Watson, who closed with a 69 for a two-stroke victory over Kevin Na and Tony Finau.

    A player that can often appear handcuffed by the most straightforward of shots was at his best at Riviera, withstanding numerous challenges to win the Genesis Open for his 10th PGA Tour title.

    That he did so on a frenzied afternoon that featured four different players moving into, however briefly, at last a share of the lead, Watson never appeared rattled. But, of course, we all know that wasn’t the case.

    Watson can become famously uncomfortable on the course and isn’t exactly known for his ability to ignore distractions. But Riviera, where he’s now won three times, is akin to competitive Ritalin for Watson.

    “[Watson] feels very comfortable moving the ball, turning it a lot. That allows him to get to a lot of the tucked pins,” said Phil Mickelson, who finished tied for sixth after moving to within one stroke of the lead early in round. “A lot of guys don't feel comfortable doing that and they end up accepting a 15 to 30 footer in the center of the green. He ends up making a lot more birdies than a lot of guys.”

    It’s the soul of what Scott calls Bubba Golf, which is in simplest terms the most creative form of the game.

    Watson can’t explain exactly what Bubba Golf is, but there was a telling moment earlier this week when Aaron Baddeley offered Watson an impromptu putting lesson, which Bubba said was the worst putting lesson he’d ever gotten.

    “He goes, ‘how do you hit a fade?’ I said, ‘I aim it right and think fade.’ How do you hit a draw? I aim it left and think draw,” Watson said. “He said, ‘how do you putt?’ I said, ‘I don't know.’ He said, ‘well, aim it to the right when it breaks to the left, aim it to the left when it breaks to the right,’ exactly how you imagine your golf ball in the fairway or off the tee, however you imagine it, imagine it that way.”

    It’s certain that there’s more going on internally, but when he’s playing his best the sum total of Watson’s game can be simply explained – see ball, hit ball. Anything more complicated than that and he runs the risk of losing what makes him so unique and – when the stars align and a course like Riviera or Augusta National, where he’s won twice, asks the right questions – virtually unbeatable.

    That’s a long way from the depths of 2017, when he failed to advance past the second playoff event and dropped outside the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking. But then, Watson has covered a lot of ground in his career on his way to 10 Tour victories.

    “I never thought I could get there,” he said. “Nobody thought that Bubba Watson from Bagdad, Fla., would ever get to 10 wins, let's be honest. Without lessons, head case, hooking the ball, slicing the ball, can't putt, you know? Somehow we're here making fun of it.”

    Somehow, through all the adversity and distractions, he found a way to be Bubba again.

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    Spieth: 'I feel great about the state of my game'

    By Will GrayFebruary 19, 2018, 1:43 am

    LOS ANGELES – Jordan Spieth is starting to feel confident again with the putter, which is probably a bad sign for the rest of the PGA Tour.

    Spieth struggled on the greens two weeks ago at TPC Scottsdale, but he began to right the ship at Pebble Beach and cracked the top 10 this week at the Genesis Open. Perhaps more important than his final spot on the leaderboard was his standing in the strokes gained putting category – 12th among the field at Riviera Country Club, including a 24-putt performance in the third round.

    Spieth closed out the week with a 4-under 67 to finish in a tie for ninth, five shots behind Bubba Watson. But after the round he spoke like a man whose preparation for the season’s first major is once again right on track.


    Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

    Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


    “I was kind of, you know, skiing uphill with my putting after Phoenix and the beginning of Pebble week, and really just for a little while now through the new year,” Spieth said. “I just made some tremendous progress. I putted extremely well this week, which is awesome. I feel great about the state of my game going forward, feel like I’m in a great place at this time of the year as we’re starting to head into major season.”

    Spieth will take a break next week, and where he next tees it up remains uncertain. He still has not announced a decision about playing or skipping the WGC-Mexico Championship, and he will have until 5 p.m. ET Friday to make a final decision on the no-cut event.

    Whether or not he flies down to Mexico City, Spieth’s optimism has officially returned after a brief hiccup on the West Coast swing.

    “For where I was starting out Phoenix to where I am and how I feel about my game going forward the rest of the year, there was a lot of progress made,” he said. “Now I’ve just got to figure out what the best schedule is for myself as we head into the Masters.”